“Too poetical that about the sad. Music did that. Music hath charms. Shakespeare said. Quotations every day in the year. To be or not to be. Wisdom while you wait.” – James Joyce
“What is modernism?” was one of the questions addressed during the recent BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk held in Waterstones, Norwich, featuring Galley Beggar Press authors Alex Pheby (hailed as “the new Beckett” by Stephen Bumphrey on BBC Radio Norfolk), Paul Stanbridge and Paul Ewen.
“Modernism consists of fragments put back together to make a whole out of disunity,” was one answer, “Being aware of the text and stepping outside it,” was another . . . along with stream of consciousness, multiple points of view, dense allusions, ambiguity and a phenomenal play of words on the page.
Stephen Dedalus features in Ulysses – one of the most demanding works written in the English language at a time of particularly momentous change. It is considered to be the greatest novel of experimental modernism. In his tribute to James Joyce’s masterpiece, Chris McCabe “plays around with ideas of what James Joyce might have done in the age of the internet and social media, which both became integral to the content of the novel.” Dedalus is a superb book in its own right and not just clever pastiche. It is beautifully produced. A weird and wonderful, leftfield and surreal read.
Dedalus wakes up in the Martello Tower with a crippling hangover and winnings in his pocket, and gets on with his day . . . somehow. “His wet trousers clung to the back of the chair, slack legs swinging. Seasand and airdew. Those trousers which were not his own. Bracken on his breeks. Along the dawnblue bay he’d walked back from Bloom’s, and mishearing his name the name had stuck : Leonard. Stephen thought sleepily of the silent couple asleep in a doubledream of catpurrs and silences. In the sourbreath of parental love.
Leonard. Good Samaritan, pockets lined with sumac. Greasy nose. Exposed offal. That kindness of the innkeeper. Sadness frothing from his eyes like overboiled eggwhites. His wife a regular Lilith. Mattress like a compactus on her back. Was it a stage for me to enter into, adulterous? Perhaps he wanted me to watch?
Could have saved money in Monto. Stephen tried to lift himself up from the bed . . .”
Haunted by Horatio – Hamlet’s trusted friend and confidant – and the ghosts of his mother and Leopold Bloom, Dedalus goes about his business. “The morning, in russet mantle clad, led him foot-by-foot to the tepid beach.” He gets to school to teach a class of boys, “Youth to itself rebels” . . . encounters characters past and present in central Dublin: Molly Bloom, Ryanair hostess, boy scout leader, pub landlord, I.T. helpdesk advisor, man at the Chills concert, sirens . . . references modern classics Lolita, The Bell Jar, Gravity’s Rainbow and others . . . heads to Westland Row Station and Kennedy’s bar . . . converses with Sarah Bernhardt . . . feasts on language, image and metaphor interspersed with concrete poetry, and engages with the mind of Chris McCabe as he goes.
We are more self-aware and self-examinatory than ever before, yet the world around us is polarising into rigid dichotomies across the mainstream. As globalism streamlines and blandifies Western society, the demand for eclectic, nongeneric, unconventional writing grows. Anti-plot and anti-genre, Dedalus captures the gradations and nuances and profusion of creative acts, articulating perplexity, regeneration and renewal.
Dedalus is a feast of allusion and transdisciplinary collaboration, published in this centenary year of the first publication of Ulysses, (in serial form in the Little Review). Novels such as this give hope: experimentation and exploration are not dead. What unites mankind lies in the depths in content, not on the surface in form.
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